Patrons at the Kibo Midnight Oil Coffeehouse in Searcy don’t just get something to sip on when they order a latte; they get a work of art.
Barista trainer Lance Hedrick is one of the latte artists at Kibo Midnight Oil, and his expert pours that result in tulips and swans have earned him recognition from coffee fans around the world.
Hedrick started working at the coffeehouse in August 2014 and immediately jumped into the craft of making latte art. He said he really started to get serious about latte art in March 2015, and he has been selected to compete in the Latte Art World Championship Open at CoffeeFest in New York on March 11.
“I love the coffee community, just the idea of connecting people worldwide by this plant,” Hedrick said. “You have the farmers who are toiling, and it takes five years before you can even use a coffee plant for coffee. These farmers in these mostly Third World countries are toiling over this fruit, and then you have the sourcers, who are going over there to check out farms and form relationships with these farmers. Then [the sourcers] talk to the shops who buy these beans, and the beans arrive to the roasters who roast the beans — which is where the art of it all is — and then the shops get the beans, and the baristas are getting the product to the customer. I think it’s a beautiful way the world comes together.”
Hedrick hasn’t always been interested in coffee. In fact, his employment at Kibo Midnight Oil started out as a way to make a paycheck and stay in Searcy.
Originally from Chattanooga, Tennessee, Hedrick’s first time in Searcy was during a church trip to Uplift, a summer camp held at Harding University, the summer before he went to college. He said he went on the trip “on a whim” and was so impressed with the school that he decided to apply for admission to the university.
“I was set on playing football — I was about to sign up at a few different schools,” he said. “[Harding] just seemed so globally attached, and I wanted to travel when I was in school. They had more impressive programs for that than other schools I had seen.”
Hedrick packed a lot into his college career. He majored in general studies, which gave him a lot of flexibility to travel and study many things, while still graduating in eight semesters.
“I tried to get the full experience,” he said.
While in school, Hedrick was the resident beatboxer for the school’s a cappella group, Good News Singers. He also played rugby, acted in one of the school’s plays and participated in study-abroad programs in Zambia and Greece. In Greece, Hedrick was a teaching assistant for Kevin Youngblood. Hedrick has taken 30 hours of ancient languages — rendering him proficient in koine Greek, Aramaic and ancient Hebrew — and he tutored students in those subjects while in Greece. Hedrick also did an internship with the current manager of Kibo Midnight Oil in the summer of 2011 in Mozambique. Hedrick has been to 30 countries, obviously fulfilling his goal to travel while in school.
Hedrick earned a bachelor’s degree in May 2014 and is taking classes toward a Master of Arts in New Testament at Harding School of Theology in Memphis, Tennessee. He is set to finish that degree next spring and hopes to start a master’s degree in religion and philosophy, as well as a doctorate, at the University of Kent in Canterbury, England, in the fall of 2017.
After Hedrick graduated with his bachelor’s degree, he knew he wanted to stay in Searcy. He was dating the woman he later married, and he knew he wanted to stick around so they could continue their relationship and she could finish school. They did get married in July 2015, and she is set to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in May.
“I was talking to my mentor, and I told him I wanted to go to Memphis for grad school, but I wanted to stay here because the girl I was going to marry was here,” Hedrick said. “He used to be on the board at Midnight Oil. He is one of the founders of the Kibo Group, which is the nonprofit part, so he knew the people at the coffeehouse would do a good job with being flexible.”
Hedrick said he did not have an interest in coffee other than as a source of caffeine, but he thought the Kibo Midnight Oil Coffeehouse seemed like an appealing working environment, and he knew several of the other employees through school.
“When I got here, the manager told me he wanted the new baristas to be able to do a few simple [forms of] latte art just to bring up the aesthetic look of the drinks,” Hedrick said. “After my first training session, I went home and got on YouTube and watched videos. After a week, I could do an OK rosetta, which usually takes people a few months to do.”
He kept working on his latte art, and about six months into his job, he decided to start an Instagram account — @lance_hedrick_barista — to show off his work. That interaction with other latte artists and fans helped motivate Hedrick to improve his craft even more.
“The Instagram started to blow up this past November,” he said. “I’m up to [nearly] 5,000 followers just from latte art.”
A former Kibo Midnight Oil barista encouraged Hedrick to enter latte-art competitions. He said he had a hard time finding local competitions, and his first competition was in December.
“I’ve only done two little throwdowns,” he said. “That’s why I’m so ecstatic I got into the world championship.”
Hedrick is currently in England meeting with professors whom he might study under at the University of Kent, and he will go directly to New York to compete in the CoffeeFest Latte Art World Championship. Nervous about going that long without practice, Hedrick contacted one of his inspirations — four-time UK Latte Art Champion Dhan Tamang — who offered to practice with Hedrick for three hours while he is in England.
“I’m pretty pumped about practicing with the four-time UK Latte Art Champion,” he said. “He’s a latte-art idol.”
More information about the CoffeeFest Latte Art World Championship Open — including a bracket of the competition — can be found at www.coffeefest.com.
Staff writer Angela Spencer can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or email@example.com.